This past weekend, Carolina’s 2018 signing class was pretty much set in stone. By now, Zion Williamson’s decision has been broken down about ten thousand different ways, so we don’t need to beat that horse any further.
You may recall that I talked about how I didn’t pay that much attention to recruiting before, and this past weekend is a big reason why. So much can change when you are dealing with the whims and decisions of seventeen and eighteen-year-old men. It’s their life, each one has a different decision to make. As a fan, spending too much time on the future cuts enjoyment of the current iteration of the team.
Coaches, however, absolutely cannot do that. To me, it felt like it had been a while since Carolina had brought in a class that included a lot of top-rated recruits. I figured to test this, I first needed to remind myself of who’s coming in.
If you’ve been watching the recruiting trail for a while, nothing about these recruits will be new. If, however, you are like me and don’t pay a lot of attention to this, it’ll be good to know why there’s serious buzz to this class. FYI, the rankings here are based on the ESPN Top 100.
Class of 2018
- Nassir Little, 6-7 SF-Orlando, FL-10th Nationally-4th SF
Little is the recruit that pushed this class to the lofty height, and also is the one that comes with the question mark of being mentioned in the FBI investigation. That said, neither he nor his family were charged, and beyond that article in October, nothing else has come out to suggest that he was directly involved. That investigation had a direct role in Little’s signing, as the other two schools looking at Little were mentioned directly and UNC wasn’t, with his announcement coming not long after the the first indictments came out.
Little is Roy’s first top-10 recruit since Justin Jackson in 2014. All you have to do is look at some of these highlights, and you can see why:
Little has a chance to step in immediately to make an impact thanks to Theo Pinson’s upcoming graduation, but he may not even start if Cam Johnson returns for his last season. This should help ease him into the college game more, taking the pressure that so many in his position have to be “The Guy.” It’s no shock he was named to the McDonald’s All-American team, and it’ll be there that a lot of fans will get their first live look at him.
- Coby White, 6-5 CG-Wilson, NC-19th Nationally-4th PG
I already referenced his tournament numbers. He broke Donald Williams’ all time record for scoring in the John Wall Invitational, and also passed Justin Jackson doing so. Pretty heady company for the North Carolina native.
White has kept is scoring going since then, as witnessed by this 45-point showing against John Wall’s old school last week:
White has been verbally committed to Carolina for a while, and is another great find for Williams. He was highly rated, but not a top-level recruit until shortly after verbally committing to UNC. Just outside the top 40, White is now 19th and is also a member of the McDonald’s All-American team. All you have to do is look at that video and you can see why.
White will enter a crowded backcourt next season, so it’ll be interesting to see if Roy uses him to run point behind Seventh Woods and Jalek Felton, or if he does what he used to with Joel and have him run the two to spell the senior Kenny Williams. White clearly has talent, the question will be how much he can get on the floor.
- Rechon Black, 6-7 PG/SF-Concord, NC-47th Nationally-12th SF
Black is the longest-tenured commit of this class, verbally agreeing to UNC back two years ago. Read that article from when Black committed to know just who Roy recruited and you’ll instantly like the kid. Since the commitment, “Leaky” spent a year down in Florida before coming back to Concord to finish out his high school career.
As can be expected, we’ve already spent time talking about Leaky here and here so I won’t repeat what has already been said. He comes into an interesting position though. He’s someone who is 6-7 but wants to run point, but has also played at the 3, which makes him the most flexible recruit coming in. That flexibility will come in handy, since there will already be competition for minutes at the 1. Of the three, Black may be the one who has a tough time getting minutes next season.
This is always subject to change based on early departures, but assuming there are none, Carolina is looking at the following players who should get minutes on the court during the season:
Seventh Woods (PG), Jalek Felton (PG), Coby White (CG), Kenny Williams (SG), Brandon Robinson (SG), Andrew Platek (SG)
Cameron Johnson, Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley, Luke Maye, Brandon Huffman, Nassir Little, Rechon Black.
Yes, this doesn’t include people like Walker Miller or KJ Smith, but tell me that roster doesn’t make you feel good whenever this season decides to end. On top of that, there are only two seniors in that group. Needless to say, this class coming in will have a chance to contribute immediately, and won’t have the pressure to come in and do it all themselves.
Comparing 2018 to Prior Classes
The question is, how does this class compare to other Roy classes? Let’s see by starting in 2004, since he came to Carolina so late in 2003 to really affect that class. As ESPN doesn’t go back that far, all numbers are via Inside Carolina.
2004: 10th Nationally, 2-5 Star (1 OAD), 1-4 Star, One straight to NBA (JR Smith)
2005: 5th Nationally, 1-5 Star, 3-4 Star, 1-2 Star
2006: 1st Nationally, 3-5 Star (1 OAD), 3-4 Star
2007: No Recruits
2008: 13th Nationally, 2-5 Star, 1-4 Star (transferred), 1-3 Star
2009: 2nd Nationally, 1-5 Star, 4-4 Star (2 transferred)
2010*: 43rd Nationally, 2-5 Star (top recruit in the nation), 1-4 Star
2011: 14th Nationally, 2-5 Star, 1-4 Star, 2-3 Star
2012: 5th Nationally, 4-4 Star
2013: 15th Nationally, 1-5 Star, 1-Star, 1-3 Star
2014: 10th Nationally, 2-5 Star, 1-4 Star
2015: 70th Nationally, 1-4 Star, 1-3 Star
2016: 14th Nationally, 1-5 Star (1 OAD), 2-4 Star
2017: 18th Nationally, 2-4 Star, 3-3 star
2018 (so far): 7th Nationally, 2-5 Star, 1-4 Star
I noted 2010 for a couple of reasons. First off, as you probably guessed, that’s the year that Harrison Barnes signed with the Heels as the top recruit in the country, the only time under Roy the top recruit has come to Carolina. The other two in that 43rd ranked class? Reggie Bullock and Kendall Marshall. So, while the class could be considered 43rd, it had the feather of a top recruit in it and two guys who were pretty big keys to the team, all three of whom went on to play in the NBA.
2014 is the line of demarcation, which is the year when the scandal spotlight turned onto the basketball team. Prior to that year, you had only one class outside of the top 20 and it included your top recruit and two other NBA players. 2015 saw a ranking in the 70’s, and that required a last-second flip of Kenny Williams just to get that high. 2016 was higher because of Bradley, but clearly had several misses. 2017 needed the last-second flip of Brooks to creep up to 18.
So clearly the NCAA Investigation hurt, and the NCAA clearing UNC of any more punishment has paid immediate dividends in the signing of Little and the additional recruitment of others for beyond, which Jake will get into tomorrow.
If there is any sort of good by-product of the NCAA investigation, it’s that it forced Roy to start finding hidden gems, and to also identify guys early and get them committed prior to them exploding on the scene. The current crop of big men would certainly qualify here, as Manley is starting to get more minutes than Brooks, but Brooks was polished enough to earn the starting spot at the beginning of the year. This core is strong enough to where Roy has not had to look for true big men this year.
Leaky and White also qualify under this, as both committed to UNC well before their senior years and have rocketed up the charts as their talents have become more exposed. They knowingly committed to Carolina while the cloud was still there, but once it was lifted, guys at that next level are willing to give Carolina another look. Yes, to some extent the breaks that caused Little to come to Carolina helped, but after four years of being on the other side of that, it felt good to see it work for Roy instead of against him.
So there is truth to the feeling that it has been a long time since Carolina has competed for top-level recruits, I just didn’t know how long until I started digging in. It just adds to how remarkable Roy’s coaching has been the last couple of season, and does help explain why depth is a little bit of an issue this year. The tide has definitely turned, and now we see if this is a one-year blip or if recruiting classes consistently become like the ones we were used to.